On the second day of the Corona Virus Quarantine, my doctor called to tell me I had cancer.  

No shit. 

I’m going to talk about it here - at some length and with some vulnerability… because the rubber tree plant has fucking had it with me already. Whatever this is I’m writing may feel like a letter at times - a blog - less-than-coherent rant. I don’t know if it will be funny or novel or informative… my judgment went the way of my bra and mascera days ago.  It’s a result of the fear and having had only one adult human with which to talk face-to-face and whose hands I can clasp.  And that poor guy… he also has a baby and just found out his wife has cancer - so his plate is full too. (If it’s not obvious, I’m referring to my husband, Melby, who is strong and wise and healthy.) 

Generally, I do not share personal stuff - especially unpleasant personal stuff - here or on the many social media platforms.  I shared when I got pregnant, for example, but not when I had the previous miscarriage. I shared when I got out of the hospital with my daughter, but not when I went back in 24 hours later with a postpartum infection that ultimately led to a hysterectomy.  I sometimes share when I get the job; but never when I lose it. I think they call it ‘image-crafting’ and many of you both get it and do the same. For me, the tendency to keep social media’s filter of my life generally happy and positive is not intended to be deceptive - I am pretty happy and positive. When things are ugly, difficult or embarrassing I tend to keep it offline. 

Which is fine. 

Which, as of March 2020, was how I liked it. 

But friends, my satisfaction with that boundary relied on a world in which - without a screen and the ubiquitous gaze of the virtual world - I had you in the real word sometimes.  Your faces and your hands - our hearts beating in the same room. We could meet for coffee and cry. We could get a drink and laugh and bitch - or not talk at all while we stared out the same window onto the same busy street. We could dance and sweat together in clubs and classes and say things like, ‘you’re never going to believe this’.  We had the filterless, uneditable present with someone we love who is looking at our face and making conscious or unconscious note of how we’re grasping and ungrasping our hands or shuffling our feet - they hear that subtle change in our voice that the laptop microphone can’t capture - and then say or do just the right thing. 

We don’t have that right now. I don’t have that right now. And I found out I have cancer in the middle of a pandemic.

For almost two days, my husband was the only one who knew about the cancer - I resisted telling even the friends and family who were aware I was awaiting results because it felt unfair at this distance. A burdon I’m overhanding through your window is not the same as one I gently set on the table between us when I buy a round. Everyone is isolated and scared - navigating a barrage of things they can’t do and problems they can’t solve.  Adding to anyone’s plate the fact that somewhere out there a cancer was growing in their friend, Dawn, felt unduly cruel. 

But Truth is itself like a cancer, for better or worse. It can be covered and burned and poisoned - it can go for years into the shadows - but it never really goes away.  Even in those instances when it is cut out and destroyed - it is known by the hole it leaves behind.  

Last week I shared the diagnosis with the friends and family who knew I was awaiting results from the biopsy.  We’ve been far-flung from each other for years now: I’m in California, my parents in Wisconsin, a sister in Illinois, one in Boston - most of my friends are in Minnesota where I went to college -  so sharing big stuff with one another via screens and satellites wasn’t new. What was new was hanging up without knowing when we could embrace.

What was new was saying goodbye, hanging up, and then looking around a shrinking world without the usual tools of healing. No comedy club, no gym, no game night. Just an equally frightened husband and our baby who, to her credit, is having the best time of her life. 

Facetime and paint-by-numbers have salved some wounds, but I found myself walking past you - dear anonymous internet audience - with divided feelings. I love you because you’re people and you make fun and funny memes and have fun and funny observations. I also hate you because you’re people and you make accusations and stir suspicion and look for the worst in each other.

But you are People. And oh my sweet god I need People right now. I don’t know what I need from you but I have a hunch, at this point, what you probably want from me: specifics and good news. 

The cancer I have is thyroid cancer which is generally very slow-moving and non-lethal.  

That’s it. 

That’s all the good news.

The bad news is that I knew I had this ‘slow-moving and non-lethal’ cancer in 2013, the first treatment for which was a partial thyroidectomy to remove the malignant mass. Today, a new mass is present on the thyroid and the cancer has metastasized to a lymph node. Even so, the outlook is significantly better than a lot of other cancers - in the 97% survival rate… when there isn’t a pandemic. 

My doctor at UCLA, via telemedicine appointment last week, said that with the information presently available from my existing ultrasounds and biopsies, the most-likely treatment will be a complete thyroidectomy. Of course anything that will simultaneously bring me into an infected area and render me immunocompromised will be postponed until it’s safe… whenever that is. My further complication is that this is a re-surgery and even the pros who slice and dice regularly around your vocal cords and larynx are challenged by scar tissue.  I think they’d like to have me in ‘by Summer.’ 


There it is. 

The fact is there are scores of people, in addition to our brothers and sisters sick with the Virus, who are also getting cancer diagnoses but of bigger more lethal varieties than mine - and with no husbands or babies to comfort them. There are also scores of our brothers and sisters who got bleak medical news three months ago and went through their resulting isolation and bankruptcy without the camaraderie of the world. Women are delivering their babies without the hands of their partners to hold. Seasoned doctors are sitting on their haunches and weeping. 

And that is why I ultimately wanted to tell You about my cancer diagnosis. Because we have to stay apart to survive but we absolutely must connect to stay alive. And we are doing it - sometimes wonderfully - even on this new and frightening terrain. 

Like the lady who told the security guy at Ralphs a joke that had him give up one of those deep belly laughs. I couldn’t hear the joke, but the look and sound of someone laughing like that LIVE… man. Felt great. 

Or the garbage man who waved at me and Bea while we sat on our front steps and honked the horn not once but TWICE to her erupting giggles! 

Or you, dear reader, who despite having nothing but time - are generous to give some of yours to these cascading words from a turbulent but optimistic mind. 

I am really scared and alone, but as I get to the end of this - whatever-this-was - I already feel better. 


How are you? 

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